DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Calvin Spann enjoys his unofficial role as historian. He speaks to schoolchildren about an era in American life often glamorized with stories of heroism and sacrifice.
Spann is a product of the World War II era. He, like hundreds of thousands of Americans, served his country in the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Often overlooked are the tales of racial discrimination, segregation and alienation Spann and others like him endured, while serving their country.
Spann is a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
In the 1940’s, the U.S. Air Corps developed a segregated training program for African Americans and Spann was a young man with aspirations to become a pilot.
“Whatever you tried to do on a higher level, you had to deal with the racism part of it,” he recounted.
The conventional wisdom of the era defined African Americans as not being capable of completing aerial combat missions against the enemy. Nonetheless, blacks were members of the military, despite laws in their own country that prohibited where they could live, dine or even drink from public water fountains.
Spann, now 87-years-old, uses his Tuskegee Airmen prestige to preach the gospel of equal opportunity. He encourages youth to dedicate themselves to math and science study.
“Most of those who didn’t make it through flight school struggled with math and science,” Spann recalled of others who attempted to join the Tuskegee Airmen.
Spann is a proud citizen, but his motivation to fly didn’t center on patriotic duty, particularly when the country treated blacks as subordinates. The retired Air Corps pilot, who completed missions over Europe, couldn’t get a job as a commercial pilot, because blacks were not hired for those positions.
Today, Spann beams with pride over the recognition Tuskegee Airmen are now receiving. And he admits he could have never predicted seeing his country led by an African American President.
Last spring, Spann traveled with fellow WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the nation’s WWII monument. His fellow white veterans treated him with respect and gratitude. It was a long leap from the days of his desire to fly.
“I was determined, and so were the other fellows, to prove the rumors wrong. That was my inspiration, to prove them wrong.”